PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Wednesday October 29, 2014, CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago government has denied allegations that it was purposely seeking nationals from Africa to deport despite other nationals being held at the Detention Center.
National Security Minister Gary Griffith dismissed a statement by the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC) of Trinidad and Tobago that many of the 22 undocumented migrants from African countries currently detained have been incarcerated for “unconscionably long periods”.
“Seven (of them) have been detained for more than one year, with the most extreme case being that of one Nigerian who has been detained for 34 months. He is the father of three children being taken care of by different foster parents since his common-law wife, a national of Trinidad and Tobago, died a few months after his incarceration. There are ten other male African detainees who are married to local women. Four of them have children,” the ESC said.
The ESC said it was “deeply disturbed” by reports that these persons will be deported to African countries on a specially chartered jet “within the next few days”.
ESC chairman Khafra Kambon said this decision seemed to contradict statements by Griffith that an “amnesty” would be granted to undocumented migrants and that such migrants had a three-month grace period in which to register with the Immigration Department.
“Naturally when the news about the “amnesty” broke there was high expectation at the Detention Centre that persons who had been detained, some for excessively long periods, would be beneficiaries, subject to the same criteria as undocumented migrants who had not been detained by immigration authorities.
The Minister’s announcement that the African detainees will be deported shortly therefore has come as a tremendous shock,” the ESC added.
But Griffith said that there was no discrimination in the treatment of African illegal immigrants, adding there was absolutely no degree of profiling or prejudice by the authorities.
“If you are an illegal immigrant, whether you are from African, the Caribbean or Mars, you are breaking the law and all I am doing as Minister is ensuring that the policy (with respect to illegal immigrants) is adhered to and enforced,” he said.
Griffith said there were 131 illegal immigrants at the Detention Centre, of which 23, or 17 per cent, are Africans. He said Jamaica made up the highest number followed by illegal immigrants from Guyana. The other detainees are from Venezuela, Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Pakistan, Barbados, Romania, Vietnam, Portugal, Senegal and Dominica.
Griffith said in the case of illegal immigrants from the Caribbean some people could be automatically flown to their home countries and therefore were unlikely to spend a long time at the Detention Centre.
“You are just getting a flight, whether it is Caribbean Airlines or not, and flying them back to Caribbean or whether it is South America. In the case of the African persons however there is no direct flight and therefore, Government needed to secure visas to authorise their passage through the United States or Brazil or so forth,” Griffith said.
“And because we cannot get them to go in transit …we have to hold them at the Detention Centre until it could come up a plan to get them to their home countries. Hence the reason why we are trying to charter an aircraft,” he said, adding that an illegal immigrant getting married to a Trinidad and Tobago national did not “automatically give you a ‘get out of jail free’ card.
In its statement, the ESC said that it thinks “it would be a real travesty of justice and an inhuman act to deport these young African men who have already been subject to unacceptable forms of punishment for immigration offences….
“We hereby call on Minister Gary Griffith, in the interest of fairness, justice, compassion and nondiscrimination to set up as a matter of urgency a committee comprising representatives from the Ministry of National Security, the Immigration Department, and non-state stakeholders to review the cases of the 22 detained nationals of African countries who are now threatened with imminent deportation at the very high cost of over TT$2.5 million (One TT dollar =US$0.16 cents) to taxpayers.”